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Human Rights

Hong Kong arrests 90-year-old Roman Catholic cardinal under national security law

China’s Catholics are split between an underground church that swears loyalty to the Vatican and the state-sponsored Catholic Patriotic Association

His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun
His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun | Rock Li/Wikimedia Commons

May 13, 2022 2:30pm

Updated: May 13, 2022 2:46pm

Hong Kong authorities arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security, according to reports.

Zen was a fierce opponent of religious persecution under the Chinese Communist Party. He also criticized the Vatican for its 2018 agreement with Beijing to recognize Chinese bishops appointed by the CCP that it did not approve, saying they were “sending the flock into the mouths of the wolves.”

China’s Catholics are split between an underground church that swears loyalty to the Vatican and the state-sponsored Catholic Patriotic Association, reports The Guardian.

Also arrested were singer-actress Denise Ho, lawyer Margaret Ng, and scholar Hui Po-keung. All four were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which fielded international donations to put toward legal aid for those who participated in the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. The 612 fund closed last fall.

The civil disobedience by demonstrators led to the passage of the sweeping 2020 Hong Kong national security bill used to round up activists and quash independent media, allowing China to reorganize the government to favor Beijing loyalists.

Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, said on Twitter: ““We condemn the arrests of these activists whose supposed ‘crime’ was funding legal aid for pro-democracy protestors back in 2019.”

“Today’s arrests signal beyond a doubt that Beijing intends to intensify its crackdown on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, blasted the Beijing-friendly leadership of Hong Kong for Zen’s arrest.

“As the most senior Catholic cleric and a valiant defender of democracy in Hong Kong, 90-year-old Cardinal Zen has fought tirelessly for religious freedom and spoken out boldly against Beijing’s persecution of Christians on the mainland,” Smith, who is also the Ranking Member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement Wednesday.

“Sadly, his arrest—just days after Beijing loyalist John Lee became Hong Kong’s next leader—underscores the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) determination to eradicate the rule of law in once-free-and-democratic Hong Kong.”

The Vatican said that it is following developments with “extreme attention.”

The cardinal and others were released on bail, reports Reuters. Each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The Wall Street Journal drew parallels between Zen’s arrest and that of Cardinal Ignatius Kung under Mao Zedong, who spent three decades in prison for his refusal to accept government control over the church.